Put that cotton bud down! Other ways to clear your ears

The contentious cotton bud has been a household staple since 1923, but it was never invented with the intention of cleaning ears. Although manufacturers explicitly warn against using them to clean your ears this has become their most common use.

A recent story has gone viral about a woman, who nearly died because she used cotton buds to clean her ears every night. It was eventually discovered that she had developed moderate hearing loss over a period of five years from a severe bacterial infection, resulting in the need for surgery to treat the infection.

The infection was caused by fibres from the cotton buds becoming lodged in her ear due to her pressing down too far and too regularly. Thankfully she has recovered although she does continue to suffer from an ongoing hearing loss.

Cotton swabs were invented by a Polish-American man named Leo Gerstenzang, after watching his wife attach pieces of cotton to toothpicks to clean their baby’s outer ears and nose. Inspired by the need Leo invented the cotton bud. But somewhere along the way misinformation spread and parents began to use the cotton bud the wrong way, pushing it deep inside the ear, with the misconception this would extract the wax, when in fact it usually just pushes it further in.

Despite its name, swimmer’s ear is most commonly caused by misuse of cotton swabs. Swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, is an inflammation or infection of the pathway running from the outer to the middle ear known as the external auditory canal. Using a cotton swab or bud messes with the natural processes your ear takes to clean itself, and also puts you at risk of perforating your eardrum, potentially causing long term damage.

Got a cotton bud habit you can’t break?

If you’re finding it tough to break your ear cleaning habit, we’ve got some safe ear cleaning solutions for you. The ear is self-cleaning. It’s actually very normal- in-fact necessary- to have earwax present in your ear as earwax has protective, lubricating and antibacterial properties. If you eat a healthy diet, take care of your hygiene, and do lots of chewing and talking to move your jaw (this helps unblock ears) your ears will maintain their self-cleaning ritual. If you feel like you need to scratch that itch when it comes to feeling clean, here are some alternative options:

1. Tissue Twirls

Like cotton buds (but much safer!) the most recommended cleaning method for your ears is to use tissue twirls. All you need to do is twist or ‘twirl’ a piece of tissue, dip it in water, and wipe around the outside of the ear canal. Do not go into the canal, as you may disrupt your natural cleaning process or get tissue caught!

2. A Warm Cloth

You may choose to wet a cloth with warm water and a small bit of soap, then lightly clean the outside of the ear, however, the warm water from your daily shower that leaks into your ears is usually enough to soften any excess earwax. You shouldn’t actively tilt your head for the water to intentionally ‘smack’ into your ear.

3. Visit your doctor

If you have concerns about you or your child’s ears you should see your doctor. Some people can have overactive cerumen glands which can result in excess wax that forms a plug and may impact hearing.

Signs of a build-up of earwax include: sudden or partial hearing loss, tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing in the ear), a feeling of fullness in the ear or/and an ear ache. In this situation the doctor is the best person to remove the wax.

There have been no proven benefits of ear candling.

Steer clear of these methods

1. Using a cotton swab, or any other sharp object tool

Any sharp object that you use in your ear risks you perforating your ear drum and pushing the wax into your ear canal which stops the natural self-cleaning process.

2. Ear Candling

Ear candling has increased in popularity over the past couple of years, however it actually has no proven benefits. So save your cash, and save yourself from any potential burns to your ears and face, and from the risk of hearing loss.

Avoid using cotton buds to clean your ears at all costs to protect your hearing, health and the environment. The risks far outweigh the benefits.

If you experience any pain, bleeding or hearing loss after cleaning your ears at home, you should see a doctor immediately. We suggest leaving those ears in peace


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